Far more than a simple means of ensuring you’re not caught with your pants down, a belt has the ability to whisper quietly about your assured sense of style or scream loudly about your unforgivable lack of judgement.
Choosing the right waist cincher is not a simple matter of practicality or even well-established style rules, but of good taste, too. Well-chosen, they can tie your whole outfit together. If you’re attempting a T-shirt or shirt tuck this summer (which you definitely should), then your belt can be the literal centrepiece of your Riviera look. Similarly, the addition of a woven belt can rescue almost any smart-casual outfit from the tentacles of mediocrity.
On the other hand, a mismatched belt will draw the eye for all the wrong reasons. If it’s the wrong size, it’ll throw your proportions out. And if it’s got a ‘fun’ buckle, then technically speaking it’s not actually a belt at all, but a shocking crime against menswear.
To ensure you don’t buckle under the pressure, we’ve compiled a guide to everything you could possibly need to know to become a black belt in this essential accessory, with the help of a few clued-up industry experts.
Belts are one of those rare items of menswear that you don’t have to spend a fortune on to get high quality. So waist not want not. You don’t need a dozen of them rolled up in your wardrobe, just a few choice staples to get you through every eventuality. Follow these rules to score an extra sartorial notch with your purchase.
“When it comes to the quality of belts, both the material used and the manufacturing process are important,” says Luca Faloni, founder of the eponymous luxury Italian brand. “Leather should age well, be resistant and not stretch: that’s why full-grain leather is the best material for classic belts.
“Also look for nubuck leather on the inner face, which is silky to the touch and durable: attention to detail doesn’t always have to be visible.”
Come on, this is menswear 101: your accessories have to match. When choosing a belt, match the colour to shoes you know you’ll wear a lot, then make sure your belt’s finish (matte, patent, suede) is also on the same page as your favourite kicks.
Skinny belts aside, the height of your belt should always be between one and one and a half inches. This measurement will work well with almost any style of trouser and ensure that your belt isn’t comically wide. You’re not Batman.
While silver, gold and brass tones are all acceptable finishes for a belt buckle, try to pick a material that matches any other heavy metal you’re wearing, such as a watch or cufflinks.
No single belt will suit every occasion, so consider what kind of clothes make up your sartorial arsenal before buying. A formal belt works for those who spend their days suited up, while woven or casual styles will, literally, hold up more relaxed looks.
Leather may be the default belt material, but it’s not the only option to circumnavigate your waistline. Don’t dismiss twill cotton or woven fabric belts which can offer a more laid-back, personalised spin, especially with casual summer outfits.
For the ideal fit, the belt’s tip should extend comfortably past your first belt loop, but stop halfway on its journey to the next one. No self-respecting man should get the kitchen scissors out to puncture his own holes.
Your belt size? It is often indicated in inches or centimetres. This number corresponds to the length of the tour of the strap – measured from the buckle to the mid hole – which is where it should be fastened, allowing for slightly higher or lower waist trousers and the natural variations in waist circumference we all go through, especially at Christmas:
However, some brands choose to size their belts in the same way they do clothing (S, M, L, XL), which often comes with a waist range, such as 34″-36″:
Admittedly, there are times when your belt will stay covered, so it’s not the end of the world if you’ve not given much thought to what’s circling your hips. For those times when your belt is front and centre though, make sure that your waist isn’t attracting incredulous eyes.
Timothy Lord, a menswear stylist who counts Jude Law, Keith Richards and Michael Fassbender as clients, gives his verdict on how and when different styles of men’s belts should be worn.
Casual belts have an inherently dodgy ring to them, but we’re not talking about buckles that belong in a line-dancing class, but rather slick leather designs which are less reserved than formal belts.
“Casual leather belts are one of the best ways to break up a separates look,” says Lord. “For the summer, wear one with a tucked in T-shirt for a subtle nod to the eighties.” Look for a matte or brass buckle or pick a soft suede instead of polished leather.
Belts should never knowingly be overdressed, says Lord. “Personally, I’m not a believer in dress belts for dress occasions. Your formal trousers should fit properly, but if they don’t I’d always opt for braces instead and use a dress belt to smarten up more casual looks.” Like if you’re wearing separates to a business-casual office.
Contrary to popular belief, being a pastel polo-wielding college kid is not a prerequisite for owning one of these. “Woven belts are ideal for adding a flash of texture to a pair of shorts during the summer. They can also give a very classic spin when worn with a linen suit too,” says Lord.
Much like backpacks or duffle coats, fabric belts are too often filed under ‘not suitable for adults’. We’re calling bullshit. Lord says: “With their slight military feel, fabric belts are perfect for wearing with [textured trousers or shorts] to layer texture on texture.”
As with practically every piece of menswear ever created, bold colour heightens the likelihood of going catastrophically off-piste. With a few choice exceptions, you should be sticking to a core coterie of belt colours which are versatile and less prone to sending the rest of your outfit into complete and utter meltdown.
Take the advice of Phill Tarling, a menswear stylist who has worked with the likes of Tom Hardy and John Hurt, to get colour matching down to a fine art.
“This is the most versatile belt colour and looks its best when worn with claret shoes. This universal belt and shoe combo can be worn with practically any colour of suit, but it’s best worn with trousers in a mid to dark tone.” Navy and grey tailoring or separates are ideal.
“When paired with black shoes, a black belt is the second most versatile option that you can pick up. From light grey through to charcoal and black, this style of belt works best when worn with a monochrome colour palette.”
“A blue belt is a trickier colour to master, but it’s ideal for adding a subtle flash of colour to a look. Worn with tonal blues or khaki trousers, a blue belt is perfect for adding personality to an off-duty ensemble.”
“A tan belt works best when worn with tan shoes. The combination looks its best worn with a navy suit, but this colour also complements trousers in earthy tones such as khaki or brown.”
Don’t choose a loud colour or tonal designs if you’re looking for versatility.
Do measure your waist size to make buying belts online easier.
Don’t choose designs with large buckles or metallic detailing. Ever.
Do pick a belt with a finish or weave that matches the rest of your accessories.
Don’t stick to one belt colour for all occasions. Have a brown, black and tan option to cover most eventualities and dress codes.
Do match the metal of your belt’s buckle with your watch and cufflinks.
High-quality and fair prices underpin everything that John Lewis does, so unsurprisingly the department store’s stock doesn’t stray from the company line.
If you’re in a bind because you need a bind, don’t pick up the nearest tat you can find because this national treasure is chock-full of unfussy designs that you’ll actually want to wear again.
Fashion designer Paul Smith has helmed a wildly successful fashion brand for almost half a century and still regularly appears on best-dressed lists, so he has our unwavering trust, almost by default. Belts from his eponymous brand don’t just rely on a trusted name though: they’ve got the design and quality credentials to back it up.
Most are made from smooth, precision-cut leather, but similarities end there with each style displaying the kind of diverse and attention-grabbing design that has enabled the brand to stay at the forefront of menswear for so long.
Fancy some quiet luxury around your hips? Italian luxury brand Luca Faloni’s your best bet. Handcrafted in Bergamot and cut from Italian leather (obviously) each small strip of leather is a lesson in how to do luxury belts the tasteful way – Cristiano Ronaldo, take note.
It’s hard to put a finger on what Ted Baker does best, because across the board there’s lots to love. In between all those sharp suits and brilliant bags, be sure not to miss the brand’s impressive line-up of waist liners: these belts do the job, look the part and don’t cost the earth.
Expect solid leather construction elevated into something more menswear-friendly via diverse colours, perforation detail and lots of different textures to get your hands on.
Buying a trusty, stylish belt need not empty your wallet of hard-earned paper and metal. Take bank-friendly brand H&M, which has impressive waist straps for the cash strapped.
The comprehensive range on offer from everyone’s second favourite Swedish retailer punch way above their weight style-wise, and will leave you with spare change aplenty.
Italy’s Parma is the source of many ingenious inventions (okay, it’s mainly the ham), but renowned belt maker Anderson has specialised in crafting leather and mixed material styles since 1966. Whether you try a pastel woven leather design for peak Pitti style or make a smarter soft suede option your everyday go-to, each belt is the kind of thing you’ll want to wear out of love rather than necessity.
Zara has built a reputation for bringing fashion’s best and brightest new trends to the high street at dizzying speed. By extension you’re completely and utterly spoilt for choice at the Spanish giant when you need to get buckled up: plaited suede, skinnier-than-your-average styles and multiple colourways are all regulars in the mix.
In the case of woven belts, there’s Bottega Veneta, then there’s everything else. Yes, you’ll pay a premium, but that’s exactly what you’ll get in return: premium. Provided you don’t do something stupid, this luxury label’s woven leather belts are practically guaranteed to stay joined to your hips for years to come.
Best known for its hypnotically soft leather loafers, Italian luxury leather goods purveyor Tod’s has a reassuringly firm grip on the very things that make a belt more than a mere functional accessory.
Alongside signature double-T fastening designs (a blueprint for how to nail just the right amount of branding) you’ll find colourful fabric and woven leather options which demonstrate that this heritage brand’s not blind to the pleasures of experimental accessorising.
If you’ve had the good fortune to find your wrist circled in one of American brand Shinola’s leather strap watches, you’ll know that they feel pretty damn perfect to wear. The designer’s small but considered collection of belts mean that you can get more of that supple leather action on your waist.
Choose from a tight edit of slim leather styles in a variety of colours and finishes, all with considered buckles and stitch detailing that’ll please the most discerning accessories aficionado.
In men’s style, streetwear is currently king-making currency, and while Stussy may not be the newest kid on the block, its clasp-fronted fabric belts are about one of the only things from our adolescent wardrobe we’d happily welcome into our current line-up.
If you’re planning on copping, leave the checkerboard pattern, logos and loud colours to the kids and instead opt for low-key designs that gently riff on teenage nostalgia.
The man formerly known as Ralph Lipschitz has successfully turned a simple name change into a behemoth fashion and lifestyle brand, second to none as a purveyor of preppiness.
The brand’s collection of belts ticks off all the preppy style hallmarks you’d expect (stripes, plait detail, ponies) while price tags hit most points on the spectrum between affordable and luxury, so practically anyone can get in on board with all-American accessorising.
If you like your belts good-looking and affordable (of course you do), then Topman’s the place to head for belts that deliver on both fronts.
Unsurprisingly, you’re not going to find any chunky monstrosities here: slimline and elegant is the order of the day. By drawing on classic colours (black, tan, brown, navy) and keeping embellishment to a minimum, the high-street stalwart’s offering makes good on their unspoken promise of making you look cool without appearing to try too hard.
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